The fans got what they wanted in Salt Lake City Saturday night as the UFC delivered a solid night of fights. There was a stretch of stinkers in the middle of the card, but aside from that the action was worth watching. Things were highlighted by a spinning extravaganza in the main event. The only thing missing from the evening's final contest was a highlight reel finish. Without further ado, here are the real winners and losers for the night:
Yair Rodriguez and Alex Caceres: The flashy featherweights did exactly what the UFC hoped they would do when they paired these two together. Wowing the masses with their highly entertaining performance, both had their moments throughout the fight and came out looking good. I admit that any skilled technician would be able to pick them apart as they leave Grand Canyon sized holes in their defense, but to focus on that would be ignoring why these two fought one another. They are two young and entertaining featherweights who haven't reached their potential that should hang around the UFC for a number of years yet. Rodriguez has a brighter future between the two as this was just his 10th professional fight. Keep an eye on his development.
Dennis Bermudez: It was your typical Bermudez fight. He was aggressive, controlled the majority of the fight with his wrestling, and put himself into a couple of bad positions in getting knocked down briefly in the second round and nearly submitted in the third. However, he persevered and showed his mettle. Bermudez is unlikely to ever change his style at this point of his career and I'm totally fine with that. He's fun to watch and though it appears he'll never be able to break into the elite, he's still easily within the top 10 of the division.
Santiago Ponzinibbio: A wave of boredom hit the crowd before Ponzinibbio came out. He may not have put on the most entertaining contest of the night, but he did bring the crowd out of their doldrums with his special brand of violence. It's no surprise he was able to outstrike Zak Cummings. Being able to withstand almost all of his takedown attempts is quite another. Improved takedown defense could end up taking him a long ways. Great win for the Argentinian.
Court McGee: He's lucky he walked out of the cage with a victory as I had scored the contest for Steele. But he received a HUGE reception from the crowd which had to feel awesome for the hometown hero. For someone to overcome the addictions McGee has to turn his life around and have thousands of fans screaming their adulation of you is one of the stories that feels like it came right out of Hollywood. Great to see one of the good guys in the sport get some adulation.
Marcin Tybura: After dropping his UFC debut, Tybura was fighting for his job. He couldn't have put on a better performance. After winning a tentative first round, he blasted Viktor Pesta into a different universe with an absolutely devastating head kick that put the Czech representative out cold. Take out the uncomfortable silence that followed as Pesta did move for a while and Tybura couldn't have had a better night. Interested to see how far he'll be able to climb in the heavyweight ranks.
David Teymur: He made it look pretty easy to navigate the long reach of Novelli. Knowing it wasn't impresses me even more. What was even better was calling out Sage Northcutt following his violent flurry to get him the W. Teymur has a very long ways to go in terms of being a contender, but at least he is now doing his part to remain relevant.
Teruto Ishihara: It's hard not to love the Japanese playboy's personality. Good thing he's been able to bring it in the cage thus far too. Granted he hasn't faced a high level of competition yet, but he did score another highlight reel finish that awarded him an extra $50K. Not a bad night for the youngster.
Justin Ledet: Not many ways to better make your UFC debut. Ledet showed off a strong chin without having it tested too much, laughing off Chase Sherman's return fire. Ledet put on a clinic on how to effectively use a jab as his fist connected with Sherman's face an ungodly amount of times, leaving Sherman's faced a bloody mask by the end of it all. I still don't know if he has the frame for extended success, but he looks very promising for now.
Rony Jason: Jason isn't here because of a bad performance. It was actually a very spirited performance. No, he's here as he doesn't have a single win in his last three contests and only has a single controversial victory in his last five fights. Everyone's favorite masked man only has himself to blame as a victory in the midst of that stretch was turned to a no contest thanks to his failure of a drug test. He appears to be a favorite of the brass which is what is keeping him around.
Chris Camozzi: Aside from a brief flurry in the opening moments of the third round, nothing went right for the rugged Camozzi. Leites took him down and controlled him on the floor, putting an emphatic end to Camozzi's three-fight win streak. Being tough will only carry a person so far and I fear we've seen just how far it has gotten Camozzi. Poor performance for the middleweight.
Joe Gigliotti: While I feared he would be too small for sustained success at 185, I didn't think he'd be manhandled by the likes of Trevor Smith. Yet that is exactly what happened. He turns 23 later this week and has enough potential and time to right the ship, but he needs to do so fast as there aren't many UFC debuts in recent memory that have gone worse. Look for him to appear at welterweight in his next fight.
Maryna Moroz and Danielle Taylor: I don't know if anybody has ever had their stock drop more following a win as Moroz's did here. Fight Metric credits her with 6% striking accuracy. 6%!!! She never committed to those few extra inches that would have allowed her to connect and invited a shower of boos from the live crowd. Taylor doesn't shoulder as much of the blame as her significantly smaller frame makes it difficult to even land a single clean shot. Taylor shouldn't be fighting at 115 lbs. I hope to see her turn up in Invicta fighting at atomweight rather than being brought back for an additional UFC appearance. Terrible performance for both women.
Dominique Steele: Steele didn't have a bad performance. He looked as though he had improved quite a few aspects in his game. But the loss dropped him to 1-3 in the UFC which usually results in fighters taking a pink slip. Even though Steele has made some good strides, I struggle to see him finding his way back into the big show.
Viktor Pesta: How bad would it suck to be KO'd cold only to wake up and realize you probably don't have a job anymore? Ask Pesta as that is how the night played out for him. His striking hasn't developed as hoped and it looks as though the youthful heavyweight will look to pick up his next win outside of the world's largest MMA organization.
Jason Novelli: How many times was the 37-year old dropped over the span of a matter of minutes? I'm not sure, but Novelli wasn't really competitive at all. He will get another chance to show his stuff, but being unable to use your physical gifts to your benefit doesn't bode well for Novelli's long term future in the UFC.
Horacio Gutierrez: I feared that Gutierrez was biting off more than he could chew fighting in the UFC this early in his career and it appears my fears were realized. Maybe I could call it a positive now that he'll no longer be fighting out of his league, but it's never a fun deal to lose your job even if you didn't necessarily deserve it in the first place. Here's hoping he can come back a few years down the road as a more polished and developed fighter.
Chase Sherman: I really didn't want to put Sherman here under the losers, but his complete lack of offense following the first round left me no choice. He was entertaining as hell with his taunting antics inside the cage, but taunts have never won anyone a fight in the UFC. He had never left the first round in his career before this fight much less go to decision. Perhaps he'll look better next time. At least we know he's a tough SOB.
John McCarthy: McCarthy is typically one of the first to penalize a fighter for a blatant foul. Not this time. He did stop the action quickly when Cub Swanson landed an illegal knee, but why didn't he take a point? It was a hard knee to a downed opponent and it isn't like there is a fighter out there that is unaware of the rule. Typically Big John is one of the best in the business. Perhaps it was just an off-night.
Thales Leites: Leites actually put on a quality performance, dominating the scrappy Camozzi and walking out of Salt Lake City with a victory. So why is he neither a winner or a loser? It's never been more apparent that he is never going to have the fans on his side for an extended run. He was booed pretty heavily upon the reading of the official decision by Bruce Buffer despite his dominance. Leites' performance was worthy of him being a winner. Realizing he'll never be put over by the fans kind of puts him in the losing department.
Zak Cummings: Yes, he took a beating and looked like hamburger by the end of the contest. But he was competitive on his feet with Ponzinibbio which is more than what many others can say. Making the contest entertaining was another impressive feat considering he has never been considered an entertaining fighter. Just the fact that he is beginning to change that perception is a win for him. Being unable to get that win doesn't firmly put him in that column.
Trevor Smith: I don't want to rip on the 35-year old veteran as it was his second dominating performance in a row. But he was also third fight in a row that produced lackluster action that left the live crowd paying more attention to their phones than what was going on in the cage. I've said it before: If no one wants to watch you, it's hard to be considered a winner.
Cub Swanson and Tatsuya Kawajiri: These two actually put on one of the more entertaining fights of the night. The question is whether or not Swanson actually deserved the win. I'm lost how two judges failed to give Kawajiri the first round and was further mystified when Swanson wasn't penalized for a blatant knee to the face of a downed Kawajiri in the second round. I can't consider him a winner despite being close to ending the fight early a few other times. Aside from those issues, it was a strong performance from both fighters that deserved a solid round of applause that leaves me wondering if Kawajiri is ever going to visibly lose a step. At 38 in the featherweight division, the fact that he hasn't yet is remarkable. Still, it wasn't a strong enough performance to call Kawajiri one of the evenings winners.